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Ex-Soviets in Israel

From Personal Narratives to a Group Portrait

Larisa Fialkova and Maria N. Yelenevskaya

Publication Year: 2007

In the final years of the Soviet Union and into the 1990s, Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel at an unprecedented rate, bringing about profound changes in Israeli society and the way immigrants understood their own identity. In this volume ex-Soviets in Israel reflect on their immigration experiences, allowing readers to explore this transitional cultural group directly through immigrants’ thoughts, memories, and feelings, rather than physical artifacts like magazines, films, or books. Drawing on their fieldwork as well as on analyses of the Russian-language Israeli media and Internet forums, Larisa Fialkova and Maria N. Yelenevskaya present a collage of cultural and folk traditions—from Slavic to Soviet, Jewish, and Muslim—to demonstrate that the mythology of Soviet Jews in Israel is still in the making. The authors begin by discussing their research strategies, explaining the sources used as material for the study, and analyzing the demographic profile of the immigrants interviewed for the project. Chapters use immigrants’ personal recollections to both find fragments of Jewish tradition that survived despite the assimilation policy in the USSR and show how traditional folk perception of the Other affected immigrants’ interaction with members of their receiving society. The authors also investigate how immigrants’ perception of time and space affected their integration, consider the mythology of Fate and Lucky Coincidences as a means of fighting immigrant stress, examine folk-linguistics and the role of the lay-person’s view of languages in the life of the immigrant community, and analyze the transformation of folklore genres and images of the country of origin under new conditions. As the biggest immigration wave from a single country in Israel’s history, the ex-Soviet Jews make a fascinating case study for a variety of disciplines. Ex-Soviets in Israel will be of interest to scholars who work in Jewish and immigration studies, modern folklore, anthropology, and sociolinguistics.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Half-title Page

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Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

Our interest in the study of the folk culture of the Soviet immigrants to Israel had begun before we first met at a conference where each of us presented a paper on the cultural aspects of immigration. Encouraged by the audience’s interest in the...

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pp. xi

We are grateful to the University of Haifa and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology for awarding us a one-year grant promoting joint research by the academic staff of these two institutions and to the Research Authority of the University...

A Note on Transliteration and Translation

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pp. xiii

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pp. 1-13

This book is a study of personal-experience stories in which Israelis from the former Soviet Union (FSU) relate their immigration experiences. It was conceived as a culture study that focuses on people and their thoughts, memories...

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1. Fieldwork and Methods

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pp. 15-36

Material for the book was drawn from face-to-face interviews with immigrants to Israel from the FSU conducted from 1999 to 2002. The total sample was made up of 123 interviews with 143 subjects who immigrated to Israel...

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2. Immigration and Evolution of Identity

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pp. 37-87

In chapter 1 we raised the issue of immigrants’ self-identification when we discussed the demographic profile of the FSU immigrants. Now we will look into factors that influence the personal and collective identity of the FSU...

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3. The Image of the Other in Personal Narratives

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pp. 89-156

There is hardly a society without a division of we and they based on various distinctions, be it race and ethnicity, religion, or social status. The problem of the other has long been studied by philosophers and sociologists in the context...

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4. Symbolic Dimensions of Time and Space

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pp. 157-210

Time and space are among the most overworked categories discussed in various fields related to society–-philosophy, sociology, psychology, behavioral geography, literary studies, folkloristics, and linguistics. Scholars in these...

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5. Lucky Coincidence, Fate, and Miracles in Immigrants’ Lives

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pp. 211-237

It has become customary among scholars of miracles to start treatises on the subject by putting the multiplicity of definitions in order and clarifying what they intend to study. Philosophers and theologians are concerned...

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6. Language and Immigrants’ Identity

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pp. 239-266

The topic of immigration is closely related to language. Immigrants’ stories can be viewed as speech portraits in which individual mannerisms intertwine with verbal behavior characteristic of the whole community. Because Russian...

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7. The New Life of Russian and Soviet Folklore in Israel

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pp. 267-296

As stated in the introduction to this book, the interviews we conducted incorporate elements of traditional and contemporary folklore. According to our observations, jokes, proverbs, and jocular rhymes are among the most frequent genres of the immigrants’...

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pp. 297-302

In recent years folkloristics has been increasingly interested in what Bausinger (1990) calls “folk culture in a world of technology” and Nekludov, “postfolklore” (http://ruthenia.ru/folklore/ postfolk.htm, 9 January 2005). Many researchers in the field...

Appendix: List of the Interviewees

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pp. 303-311


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pp. 313-326


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pp. 327-361

Name Index

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pp. 363-368

Subject Index

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pp. 369-373

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814338391
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814331699

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 25
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jews, Soviet -- Israel -- Folklore.
  • Immigrants -- Soviet Union -- Folklore.
  • Jews, Soviet -- Israel -- Interviews.
  • Jews, Soviet -- Israel -- Identity.
  • Jews, Soviet -- Cultural assimilation -- Israel.
  • Israel -- Ethnic relations.
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